Interview with Snowden’s Lawyer: ‘Of Course He’s Homesick’

December 23, 2014
Edward Snowden and his girlfriend Lindsay Mills at a theater in Moscow in October 2013. Photo by RIA Novosti.

Rossiyskaya Gazeta (, the Russian state newspaper of record, has published an interview with Anatoly Kucherena, the lawyer of Edward Snowden, titled Snowden Awaits his Fiancé: Anatoly Kucherena Describes How the Most Mysterious American Lives and Works. The interview was conducted by Boris Yamshanov, a journalist who has authored a number of articles on legal topics. The translation is by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick.

Kucherena, an attorney who handles especially sensitive cases for the Kremlin with close ties to intelligence and law-enforcement, speaks at length about Snowden, but without answering the basic questions that have remained since his flight to Moscow in June 2013: why can’t any journalists — even state journalists from an approved state newspaper like Rossiyskaya Gazeta— interview Snowden directly? Why is he only allowed to meet vetted foreign journalists who are either among the original reporters who received his stolen documents — Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman and others — or whose world-views are anti-American or at least decidedly pro-hacker? The very few major TV network journalists who have been allowed to interview him have wound up not getting cleared hours of their videos, and the result is that the interviews are like advertorials for the movement for radical state transparency and massive personal encryption that Snowden espouses.

Why did Snowden chose Moscow? And chose it he did, as he was not forced to go there. He had plenty of time after he stole state secrets and left his job on May 18, 2013 in Hawaii but before he revealed his identity to flee to any country in the world, including Iceland, where he had WikiLeaks’ supporters, or Ecuador or Cuba or other Latin American countries. He did not meet with Greenwald and the other reporters until June 9 – and then spent more than two weeks after that before he departed for Moscow. WikiLeaks in fact advised he go to Moscow because they already had close ties to Moscow, had projects there, and wanted to paint a picture of Russia as “the only country able to stand up to America” — the implication was that other countries would be forced to bow to Washington’s diktat.

That’s hard to prove, given that Iceland turfed out FBI agents from Reykjavik after Cablegate, when Chelsea Manning’s ties to Julian Assange were being investigated; Ecuardor has harbored Assange all this time, and Brazil snubbed Obama after the Snowden leaks and cancelled a summit. Perhaps Snowden would have been endangered by normalizing US-Cuban relations had he sought refuge in Havana?

All these and many more questions are missing — but a few tidbits can be gleaned even behind Kucherena’s evasive answers; we realize Snowden is very much kept under guard — for a man who has loved to appear on every television program he possibly can in the West, it’s hard to understand the shyness before the camera for Russian camera crews.

After receiving a 3-year residence permit in Russia, Edward Snowden lives in Moscow in a rented apartment, works as a consultant for an IT company, rides on the metro, and hangs out with his girlfriend.

A little more than a year ago, this “man from nowhere” appeared in the Sheremetyevo Airport. That is, a man without a passport. It turned out that this passenger was flying from the US through Hong Kong and Moscow to South American, but the American authorities cancelled his passport, and at the transit lounge, he was unable to get on another flight or go outside. This severe repression was the revenge for the sensational disclosures the former employee of the USA super service which conducts unlawful secret surveillance over people throughout the whole world. Thus began the Russian era of the American Edward Snowden. The prominent lawyer Anatoly Kucherena helped him to once again acquire his name and status.

RG: Anatoly Grigoryevich, a year ago, Snowden was given temporary asylum for one year. What is his status now?

Anatoly Kucherena
: Now he has received a residence permit for three years. He can freely move around the country and travel to other countries, and enjoy all the rights and duties that citizens of Russia have.

RG: Does he use these opportunities to travel or does he live behind seven seals?

Anatoly Kucherena: No, of course not, he is an absolutely free man. I want to underscore this in particular because there are certain rumors and speculations in this regard. No one is restricting him in any way. He can absolutely calmly and freely move around, of course, taking into account the specific feature of the situation as it has developed.

Of course, all measures of security are also taken into account.

RG: So, the situation is still tense, possibly there are some real phenomena — an attempt at surveillance or something else?

Anatoly Kucherena: I don’t rule that out, but measures of precaution are taken before anything shows up. As the saying goes, God helps those who help themselves.

RG: You don’t reveal his place of residence, it must be understood, also in the interests of security. But tell us at least about the conditions — he lives alone, in some castle outside of town?

Anatoly Kucherena: No, of course not, he doesn’t live in any castle, and that isn’t possible even for practical considerations. The brave act which he committed, divulging the secret plans of the American intelligence service, was made not for the sake of enrichment, but for reasons of sheer idealism; no one paid him millions for this. And a castle costs a lot. Therefore the housing that he has, he rents.

RG: Rented quarter also require funds, plus food and maintenance of oneself — money is needed for everything. Has he got employment?

Anatoly Kucherena: Yes, he is working in his field — IT technology, as a consultant in a company. And thank God he is working, because it is very important for any person to find himself and realize himself. Without that, sitting within the four walls at home, you could go crazy. He travels around Moscow, including on the metro, he goes to stores, he buys groceries and everything that is necessary. By the way, he has an account open, to which funds come, thanks to those who are helping him today.

RG: Could you give a hint as to which metro station he might be met at, so as to have a talk?

Anatoly Kucherena
: It would only be accidental, because his routes are the most diverse, it happens that they change several times in one day.

RG: Is his current work connected in some way with the intelligence services?

Anatoly Kucherena: No.

RG: But you’ll agree, it would be strange if the intelligence agencies did not display any interest to this person. In the old days, there was even a joke, that the line in your personnel form that asked, “Have you been abroad?” should have the words added to it, “If you were, what was the reason for your return?”

Anatoly Kucherena
: When he first came, there was an interest. The intelligence services must fulfill their role, securing the country’s security and clarifying who was this man, where did he come from, and why he ended up here. But he rather definitively, even rigidly comported himself from the very beginning and immediately let them know that he was not a spy, he never worked for any [foreign] intelligence and would not in the future. If there were attempts to make contact with him, I think he would tell me, we have sufficiently confidential relations.

RG: I think Russia has shown itself in this situation to be more than proper — the government did not make an anti-American show out of the shocking revelations of Snowden, which were published in the foreign press, and Russians themselves received him warmly and sympathetically.

Anatoly Kucherena: I would even say that Russia has behaved nobly. And the fact that Snowden, who wound up literally in a helpless situation in terms of human rights was not left without support and help — this fact really played a key role in his fate. He felt the support of Russians and senses the warm attitude, including from letters.

RG: How are letters brought to him?

Anatoly Kucherena
: through me, they come through my address. There are rather a lot of letters.

RG: As much as I’ve seen him on TV, the conversation was always in one place, with the same people surrounding him. Does Snowden have a rather limited circle of contact?

Anatoly Kucherena: No, the meetings were in different places. When his American colleagues came, we were in one room, with European guests, in another place. That is, he is not alone and not isolated, he socializes a lot, not only at work but in his free time.

RG: There is a fairly large interest in him as before, I think; many journalists would like to get an interview with him. Why does he avoid meetings with the press?

Anatoly Kucherena: His position is absolutely clear to me. He is not the kind of person who wants to be on television screens all the time and become a public persona. The modest life style is more suited to him. And this once again speaks to the fact that he did this act not for the sake of fame, but did it sincerely, understanding that if he does not due this, then total clandestine surveillance of people’s personal lives will be unlimited.

RG: Does he keep in touch with his relatives and friends who live in America?

Anatoly Kucherena
: Of course. He actively communicates with friends, with his girlfriend, who comes to visit him here.

RG: He has a fiancé? He didn’t get interested in our beauties? I think if you were to organize a competition of brides, there’d be no shortage.

Anatoly Kucherena: Joking aside, there was a moment when I thought it was time to organize such a competition. It reached the point that one older woman wanted to do no less than to adopt Edward Snowden. And a family from Novosibirsk offered him a cottage to live in. We have many kind, conscientious people who really sincerely sympathized with his fate, and appreciate his noble and heroic act. After all, to go up against the intelligence system in the USA is a very serious challenge, which only a courageous and honorable person could do, as the consequences can be unpredictable.

RG: I was acquainted with a colorful American singer named Dean Reed. He was persecuted in the USA for his “leftist” views, and he lived in East Germany. He led, shall we say, an interesting lifestyle there, his concerts there were inevitably sold out by enthusiastic crowds. Even so, he was very homesick for America, its wide-open spaces, its weekends in the circle of close friends. He found it confining in Germany. Is Edward homesick?

Anatoly Kucherena: Of course he’s homesick. You have to understand that Snowden is an American product. We often criticize America, but there is a lot that is interesting there and good, including in the youth milieu — the way they live, the way they are brought up and how they relax, what conditions they have for development, education, career. It is no accident that the majority of the Nobel Peace Prize laureates are from America, still and all. And people like Dean Reed grow up there, who I really liked, like Edward Snowden and his father. I have wonderful relations with Edward’s father and mother, they are very decent people. The father, when he came here, believed that we all go around in fur hats and that bears are a common thing. After he got acquainted with Moscow, he was amazed at what he saw. He said, people really don’t know Russia.

: What do other Americans say to you regarding Snowden? For example, from the US Embassy?

Anatoly Kucherena
: There are all different kinds of Americans. Some say: you’re defending a spy! I reply: I am defending an American citizen who has gotten into trouble due to the fault of the American authorities who took away his passport. At first, the embassy employees virtually did not leave my office and kept demanding meetings with him — first the ambassador, then a representative from the NSA, which is where Snowden worked. I said that he doesn’t want to meet with you, and that’s his business. But they didn’t understand, and it reached the point of irritation, which I don’t understand. After all, he is not arrested in our country, he is not detained, he is not charged with any offense, our country is not persecuting him — he is a free man and has the right to decide himself. As it became known to me later, there was an order from the State Department to meet with him no matter what, and at any price, and convince him to return home.

RG: Will Edward celebrate Christmas and New Year’s in Moscow?

Anatoly Kucherena: Here, among other places. And of course, not alone. A close circle of his friends has already formed, where he feels comfortable.